Fight against COVID-19: NC State Fairgrounds upgrades air ventilation systems in several buildings

Coronavirus

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN)– The North Carolina State Agriculture Department spent a half million dollars of federal funds for COVID-19 relief at the State Fair Fairgrounds, and CBS 17 wanted to know how that money was used. 

More than a half dozen buildings at the State Fairgrounds now have a sign attached to them that states that air cleaning technology is now being used inside them. 

One of the buildings is the Jim Graham building where State Fair manager Kent Yelverton took Consumer Investigator Steve Sbraccia to demonstrate how the air cleaning system works. 

He stood next to one of several, huge floor-level vents that are part of the HVAC system. 

“If I’m standing here and I breathe out, that is pulling air into the system,” Yelverton said. “It goes up and is mixed with fresh air and continues along the duct work.” 

Attached to the duct is a small device, which creates ions using a process known as needlepoint bipolar ionization. 

The unit, manufactured by Global Plasma Solutions, creates ions in the air stream of the ventilation system. 

Once in a room, the ions bond with pathogens like the COVID virus. That bonding disrupts the virus’s surface protein, thus rendering it inactive. 

The ions can also cause things like pollen and dust to clump together making them too large to pass through the HVAC’s air filters.  

In a huge hall like the Graham building, there’s more than 95,000 square feet which is ventilated by eight massive air handling units each with its own ionization device. 

“As people are in this space and breathe out, it is taken into the HVAC system which gives it a chance for those containments to be filtered out,” said Yelverton. 

The system was in place in time for the recent gun show at the fairgrounds where thousands attended. 

The Graham building is not the only one using those devices which were installed just six weeks ago. 

There are seven buildings on the fairgrounds where ventilation systems have been retrofitted. 

The money for those updates came from the CARES ACT  which was enacted by Congress during the height of the pandemic last year. 

Congress sent federal funds to our state legislature which then had to figure out what to do with them. 

 The General Assembly then allocated a half million dollars of its CARES ACT funding to the agriculture department which had to decide how to use the funds. 

  • It spent $400,000 on the purchase and installation of the ionization systems for fairground buildings. 
  • Most of the $100,000 that was left over went to pay for additional staffing and security for last October’s “walk-up” state fair food event. 
  • The money that remained was used to purchase a floor scrubbing device to help sanitize state fair buildings 

CBS 17 asked Yelverton why his agency spent the CARES money on those items as opposed to something else. 

“This gives us the opportunity to provide an additional layer of protection to all visitors at one time,” said Yelverton. 

The idea to use air cleaning ionization came from another project. 

Yelverton said the new AG Department Science lab is being constructed with that needlepoint bipolar ionization process in place.  

When he saw how the technology worked, Yelverton said he believed the main fairground buildings could benefit from that system too when they are filled with people. 

“We are doing proactive things to make things a little safer when they are here,” he said. 

However, Yelverton said you can’t let systems like this create a false sense of security. All they can do is clean the air.  

He said ionization can’t replace social distancing and mask wearing, especially if you are near someone who is shedding the virus. 

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